Even Small Nonprofits Can Be Mighty Fundraisers! Here’s Where It Starts

Even Small Nonprofits Can Be Mighty Fundraisers! Here’s Where It Starts

Welcome back from what was hopefully a refreshing and restorative break from the usual grind. As we head into September, I’m reminded of how much I love Fall every year. It’s a season filled with renewed energy and purpose, especially in the nonprofit sector.

What’s on my mind lately is money for the mission. Specifically, what it takes to turn your small shop on the struggle bus into a shop that’s winning the fundraising game. I’m delighted to say I have a wealth of experience in both of these scenarios, and I have much to share with you.

This article kicks off a series that is intentionally focused on every small to midsize shop becoming a champion at raising money. There is no mission on this planet that can be fulfilled without it. No matter what your results have been so far, there are 18 weeks left to make a significant dent in your year-end goals. Let’s get to it…

For starters, a shop that is winning the fundraising game is led from the top. Specifically, the Executive Director. This is what nobody wants to hear and what nobody wants to confront. Believe me, I’ve heard it all. It’s mostly variations on a theme of “But I’m the Executive Director, I don’t have time to fundraise or deal with fundraising.” Here’s what you must understand…

The reason why your shop has been struggling for so long is that up to this point, you have refused to take ownership of the ONE thing that matters most – fundraising. A mission does not get fulfilled on fumes. It needs fuel. Money IS the fuel. Beyond that, there is a gigantic difference between being the fundraiser in your shop vs. owning fundraising in your shop. The former is a job title plus a series of actions. The latter is how you show up every day, and who you are in the matter of raising money in your shop.

Speaking of how one shows up every day, I’ll share the four most common nonprofit leaders I’ve encountered in my visits and conversations…

Likable Linda will do anything to make sure everyone around her likes her. Image is everything to her. “Nice” is the word everyone uses to describe Likable Linda. She knows how to make you feel good, and she pours it on in order to avoid criticism. Very little is accomplished in a shop led by Likable Linda, mostly because too much activity could potentially cause an upset.

Tyrant Teresa models all the unhealthy behaviors human beings have. She’s a control freak and a tyrant on all the wrong issues. She is demeaning, snide, and manipulative – all of which hides that she’s afraid of people. Teresa leaves behind a lot of casualties in the organization. Plenty have already left and the rest are working on leaving. Good people are destroyed because of Tyrant Teresa, and nobody confronts it.

No Decision Nancy is always very busy and her desk is full, but she is directionless. She misses deadlines left and right. Nothing is ever finished or brought to completion. No Decision Nancy loves to stir the pot and create confusion, all to avoid making any kind of decision. Always being busy is the easiest way for her to avoid saying yes or no.

Roaming Rhonda wanders from one organization to the other in an endless cycle. She arrives in a shop with a promise to launch something new and exciting. 30 days in, she’s added that shop to her resume and is looking for the next lily pad to jump to. While she’s looking, Roaming Rhonda executes the first 3-4 steps of a 10-step launch plan – then jumps ship long before the launch ever happens. Her resume is a list of 6 or 7 nonprofits in 12 years’ time.

You know what’s interesting? Despite each of these leaders having gotten attached to a particular personality, they have genius and strengths they haven’t tapped into. Instead of exploring those things, they’ve allowed fear and avoidance to take over. You might be in exactly this place. While it’s totally human, you’ve got to turn it around in order to lead your shop into financial prosperity. Here are the first three steps…


Decide you are finally going to live the mission. Decide that the work of the mission is important enough to get up every day and push to make it better. Decide you will go out and move mountains to find the resources that can fuel the work you believe in. This decision is made by a person whose heart is truly embedded in the mission.


Decide you are no longer willing to tolerate failure. Decide to turn yourself inside out and become someone that produces results. Decide to finally put in the kind of work and produce the kind of results that make you proud of yourself. Someone you are proud to look at in the mirror every day. This decision is made by a person who feels they have a personal mission to fulfill alongside the organization’s mission.

Pick one of these angles, then sit down and have an honest conversation with yourself. Did you give up at some point? Admit it, and DECIDE. Did you lose your way? Acknowledge it, and DECIDE. Once you’ve decided, know that you must re-decide every single day. This is like going to the gym. You don’t decide to go one day and it’s done forever. No. Every day, you re-decide. Because that’s what a commitment to anything requires.


The hardest pill in the world you need to swallow is that you are not reliable for what you say. This is the #1 reason why small shops are failing at fundraising. Money itself is a promise fulfilled. How, then, can you expect money to show up in a space of unfulfilled promises and broken word? With certainty, I can tell you that it doesn’t. Money shows up when, who you are, IS your word.

What does it mean to walk your talk? When you’re in a meeting and declare you’re going to do something, write it down and follow through on it. If you promise to call someone, write it down and do it. If you promise to get back to a staff member with information they need, write it down and get it done. When you promise a Board member you’re going to reach out to them and schedule, do it. Drop every excuse that has ever kept you from being your word. This is a critical step toward becoming a financially prosperous organization.


What communications are being sent out from your organization right now? Has there been a response? If so, what’s working or not working about it?

What was the response to the most recent fundraising campaign? What actions were taken? How did people respond? What worked? What didn’t work?

What programs are running right now? Which ones need to be reviewed, paused, or stopped?

How many volunteers do you have right now, and how many do you need? And for what?

There are so many items I can add to this list. Regardless, you need to know the score at all times IN DETAIL. You cannot possibly expect to win the fundraising game without knowing what is happening in every area of your organization.

My friends, it’s time to recommit to re-fueling the mission. Let this be the season you turn the big dreams you once had into reality.

Want help? I offer individualized coaching and consulting specifically tailored to meet you where you are, with the people and resources you have available to you, and with your goals in mind.

Reply to this message directly to set up a conversation. Even if we don’t end up doing work together, I promise our conversation will highlight a direction and solutions you haven’t yet considered.

Let’s start there.